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What would a clogged air filter do to your engine?

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If you’re wondering, “what would a clogged air filter do to your engine?” Here are the most common consequences when your air filter gets clogged:

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  1. The vehicle will smell like fuel
  2. The exhaust smoke will look darker
  3. Your vehicle will not produce the same power
  4. The check engine light illuminate
  5. The vehicle will make rattling noises
  6. You might deal with the engine misfiring
  7. You will need more gas
  8. The air filter will look dirty
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Your vehicle relies on many components to protect major elements like the engine and the transmission. Before air or fluids gets into the major components, they typically go through certain filters to remove any debris or contaminants that could damage the major components.

Like any other filter, the air filter is the first protection element to keep airborne contaminants from making their way to the engine. But the filter collects debris and contaminants and might get partially or completely clogged overtime abuse. That’s when you’ll notice a reduction in the vehicle’s performance, and instead of the filter protecting the engine, it impacts its efficiency and results in negative consequences.

This article provides you with all details you need to know about “what would a clogged air filter do to your engine?” It will highlight all potential negative consequences when the air filter gets clogged, and it will also provide you with some rough estimates about air filter replacement costs. Finally, the article will highlight whether it’s OK to drive with a dirty or clogged air filter or not.

What is the engine air filter, and what does it do?

Your engine is a very expensive component, and it’s the heart of your vehicle. Therefore, before sending any fluids or air to the engine, these fluids and air must be filtered properly, so no contaminants or other potential dirt make their way to the engine here. This way, you’ll enjoy an extended lifetime of the engine without dealing with major breakdowns.

Your engine requires a specific amount of air as part of the mixture to generate the combustion process to create the necessary energy to get your vehicle going. The engine breathes in air through the air filter that cleans up the air before it gets to the engine.

Since the air filter continuously cleans up any air going to the engine, it gets clogged and requires replacement at some point in time. Unfortunately, with a clogged air filter, it does the opposite job, and instead of helping the engine breathe in, it blocks any air from getting the engine. Therefore, your engine will suffer, and you will deal with major breakdowns at some point in time.

What would a clogged air filter do to your engine?

The good news is that your vehicle will show you some symptoms indicating that their filter is clogged whenever it does. Therefore, understanding “what would a clogged air filter do to your engine?” Is extremely essential to give you an idea about how critical and serious the issue is. Yes, the air filter is a minor component, but once you understand the potential consequences of a client air filter, you’ll think twice before delaying air filter replacement.

Let’s take a closer look at what automotive experts found in terms of the consequences of clogged air filters:

  1. The vehicle will smell like fuel

One of the very common consequences of a clogged air filter is that your car will smell like strong petrol or fuel. When that happens, it indicates that your engine is sucking more fuel than it should, and some of it might leak inside the vehicle.

  1. The exhaust smoke will look darker

When the engine struggles to pull more oxygen to the combustion location, it will burn more fuel than oxygen, and therefore, you’ll see that the exhaust smoke has some dark color. Typically, the exhaust does not have a clear color unless you’re driving an older car.

When you realize the change in the exhaust color, it is important to note that the vehicle is emitting harmful gases, which can be dangerous to humans and the entire environment.

  1. Your vehicle will not produce the same power

In any combustion process, your engine relies on a certain ratio of air to fuel mixture. When this ratio gets impacted due to a clogged air filter, you will realize that your car is not working. It’s chilled, and it’s not producing the right amount of energy.

It’s important to note that your vehicle’s efficiency and horsepower depend heavily on how much oxygen gets to the combustion chamber. Therefore, with the air filter clogged, it eliminates and reduces the oxygen supply.

  1. The check engine light illuminate

The check engine light illuminates for various reasons, and some of these might be related to a clogged air filter. Obviously, your vehicle will not throw a check engine light unless the air filter is close to being completely clogged.

Your vehicle will complain that the combustion chamber does not have enough oxygen, and it will not necessarily say it’s a clogged air filter. Still, it will be more like a general code that you can translate and inspect thoroughly to confirm whether it’s related to a clogged air filter or not.

  1. The vehicle will make rattling noises

Since the engine breathes through the air filter when air or oxygen cannot come smoothly through the air filter, the vehicle will make weird rattling noises, and it will sound like a hiccup or vibration. When that happens, it could be something related to a clogged air filter.

  1. You might deal with the engine misfiring

Engine misfiring can happen due to any disturbance to the air-fuel mixture and other reasons. Therefore, don’t be surprised to deal with engine misfiring whenever the air filter is partially or completely clogged.

  1. You will need more gas

Without sufficient oxygen supply, the engine will consume more gas to generate a specific amount of energy. Therefore, if you realize that you need to visit the gas station more frequently than before, your issue might be related to a clogged air filter.

  1. The air filter will look dirty

Finally, you can perform a visual inspection and take a closer look at the air filter. If you realize that the air filter is not as clean as before, it’s due for replacement.

  1. It will be harder for your car to cool down

The vehicle’s air conditioning system relies to some extent on the engine’s performance to cool the vehicle down. When the engine doesn’t receive enough air, the cooling system will also fail to cool down your vehicle. Therefore, if you are driving during extreme summer temperatures, dealing with a dirty air filter can be very challenging, and your driving experience will be uncomfortable.

How much does it cost to replace a clogged air filter?

Replacing a clogged air filter should cost somewhere between $20 and $40. However, the price range depends heavily on who’s doing the job. For instance, if you got the job done at the dealership, you’ll pay much more for labor costs than you do the job yourself.

Air filter replacement is not a very complicated job, and many drivers prefer to learn how to replace their filters themselves, so they don’t have to worry about high labor costs. However, if you’re not comfortable replacing the air filter, we recommend that you do not experience on your vehicle and leave it to professionals, especially if you’re driving an expensive vehicle.

Remember that most DIYs do not work the first time, and if it’s an expensive car, some simple mistakes might lead to major damages that could cost you thousands of dollars down the road.

Is it bad to drive with a clogged air filter?

According to automotive experts, driving with a clogged air filter is another good idea because many negative consequences could occur, as we highlighted before. For example, a dirty air filter might allow contaminants or debris from getting to the engine and causing major damages.

Therefore, no matter what’s the reason for delaying replacing your clogged air filter, you should think twice about how much you’ll pay for installing a new engine and dealing with more complicated problems.

Is no air filter better than a dirty one?

While both situations are never a good idea, it’s obvious that driving a car without an air filter is extremely more dangerous than driving a vehicle with a dirty one.

When the air filter is dirty, it might not allow enough air to get to the engine, but it will still prevent any larger debris or contaminants from making their way to the engine. On the other hand, driving a vehicle without an air filter leads all types of contaminants and debris from getting to the engine. Therefore, there is a very high chance that you might deal with severe and very expensive repairs.

However, it’s always important to note that you should never drive your vehicle without an air filter, and you should never continue driving the car when the air filter is close to being completely clogged because either way, you’ll deal with some engine damages.

How often should I replace the air filter?

Typically, you’ll need an air filter replacement once every 10 to 15,000 miles. Sometimes it might be up to one whole year without needing to replace the air filter. However, if you realize any of mentioned symptoms indicating that the air filter is dirty, you should immediately replace the air filter and not wait to hit the 15,000 miles. Otherwise, you’ll realize a significant drop in the vehicle’s performance and other undesirable outcomes.

Should I replace the air filter myself?

Yes! Replacing the air filter is a very simple job, and most drivers do the job themselves because it doesn’t require advanced mechanical skill sets. All you have to do is figure out where the air filter is located and understand how it’s placed, then place the new air filter in the same area and the same direction.
An important pro tip that you should keep in mind when replacing the air filter is to compare the old air filter to the new one. Many times, people fail to purchase the right filter and end up installing the wrong component that could cause some damage.


Vehicles filters are responsible for preventing any contaminants or debris from getting to major components. In addition, the air filter cleans out any air going to the engine, and therefore, the engine works properly without dealing with foreign particles that could impact the combustion process.

When the air filter gets clogged, your engine’s performance will be impacted. This article provided you with all the potential negative consequences of a clogged air filter. This way, you get an idea about how serious the issue is so you can replace the air filter immediately whenever it’s clogged.

Of course, waiting on a clogged air filter for an extended time leads to major mechanical problems in the engine. Therefore, if you got into this situation and your engine experienced breakdowns due to a clogged air filter, the only option would be to install a new engine or sell the vehicle and use its value towards a better car.

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